Age Appropriate

The WB skews young. CBS attracts older crowd

TV networks obsess over younger viewers. They trumpet delivery to adults 18-34 and 18-49. Reaching them is another matter. Just how old is CBS's audience? Which network sitcom really pulls in younger demos?

Prime time broadcast median age by season
Network 1999-00 2000-01 2001-02 2002-03 2003-04
Source: Magna Global analysis of Nielsen data
The WB28.729.
Shows with low median age
Network Show Age
Source: Magna Global analysis of Nielsen data from 2003-04 season
FoxThe Simpsons27.6
The WBOne Tree Hill27.6
UPNAmerica's Next Top Model29.8
NBCFear Factor37.1
ABCThe Bachelor39.0
CBSSurvivor: All-Stars43.5
Shows with high median age
Network Show Age
Source: Magna Global analysis of Nielsen data from 2003-04 season
CBSThe District58.5
ABCThreat Matrix54.6
NBCWest Wing51.9
FoxBoston Public45.5
The WBEverwood42.0

Magna Global's annual median-age survey helps translate pitch into fact.

Median age is the point at which half a network's audience is younger and half is older. It isn't a metric that advertisers use to buy time. It's a barometer to help determine who is watching. And, according to Magna, the report has encouraged broadcast networks and several cable networks to incorporate median-age data into their presentations and analysis.

The WB boasted the youngest age, 33.4, in prime time during the 2003-04 season. UPN and Fox aren't far behind: 34.2 and 36.4, respectively. Looking ahead to next season, UPN could catch up. The network is adding more reality, with a new season of America's Next Top Model
and repeats replacing Friday-night movies, which tend to skew older.

Of the Big Three broadcast networks, CBS attracts the oldest crowd, with a median age of 52.9, thanks to dramas like Cold Case, Joan of Arcadia
and Navy NCIS, all returning next fall. CBS's two 60 Minutes
newsmagazines are the oldest prime time news programs, with an audience at nearly 60. The good news for CBS: Its reality shows are relatively youthful. The Amazing Race, which didn't air in the 2003-04 season, attracted viewers age 41.4 in 2002-03, and Survivor: All-Stars
notched a 43.2. The network's biggest drama franchise, CSI, is relatively young by CBS standards: CSI
harvested a 49.1, while CSI: Miami
was slightly older, at 49.4.

Broadcast's other blockbuster brand, Law & Order
on NBC, attracts a similar audience. Law & Order: SVU
is the youngest of the trio, with a median age of 47, followed by Law & Order: Criminal Intent
at 50.1 and the original at 50.8.

Overall, NBC's median age is 45.9, just a touch older than ABC's 45.3 years. NBC's figures are particularly interesting, since the network usually crows about its strength in the 18-49 demo. "41% of their audience is over 50," says Steve Sternberg, Magna Global's research chief. (NBC is most-watched by 18-49s, while CBS is most-watched overall). The Peacock does, however, have the most-balanced audience, he says, "with successful younger-, mid-age– and older-skewing series."

NBC should get younger next season, Sternberg says, since it is adding more reality. Also, the network is dumping older Tuesday comedies in favor of a new lineup: Scrubs, Average Joe
and Father of the Pride.
All are expected to have relatively youthful appeal.

Reality helps at ABC, too. The Bachelor
(39.0 ) and The Mole
(36.5) are the network's youngest shows. More reality is coming, with Wife Swap
and Mark Cuban's Apprentice
knockoff The Benefactor.
"There's a good chance of ABC's median age getting slightly younger," says Sternberg.

Indeed, reality is the ticket to younger viewers. But the much-maligned sitcom is a good vehicle, too.

NBC's Will & Grace
pulls in one of the youngest comedy audiences, at 39; Scrubs' median age is 40. Fox's comedies are particularly youthful. The Simpsons
and quirky family comedy Oliver Beene
pulled in the network's youngest audience last season, at 27.6. Both Malcom in the Middle
and Bernie Mac
boast a median age under 30. What's the youngest drama? That distinction goes to The WB's One Tree Hill, at 27.6.

But younger isn't always better. The WB's comedy Run of the House
boasted broadcast's youngest median age in prime last season, at 27.5. The show was also canceled after one season.